Good one, tye. I've had great success with your second alternative, prepending the sort key to the original data, making a single string and sorting that.
It has been at *least* 50% faster than the "standard" ST technique, in the instances where I've used it (your mileage may vary, of course :). Mostly, those instances were cases where the data was complex enough that sorting was slow to begin with...
Update: While this approach probably cannot compete with the raw speed of C, the cost-benefit ratio is far more favorable (to me), given the size of the learning curve I would require in order to be effective using XS (which is essentially what using C in this context boils down to).
You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day ...
Or, you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime
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